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Late-Term Abortion Ban Heard In State House

Gwyneth Doland

New Mexico is one of only a handful of states that don’t restrict late-term abortions. But that could change if a bill moving through the state Legislature is successful.

During a special election in 2013, Albuquerque voters rejected a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, but on Friday dozens of supporters and opponents lined up for what was expected to be hours of testimony on a similar proposal.

Supporters of the ban say late-term abortions are unacceptably cruel and violate the dignity of all human life.

“The Church supports this ban the same way that it worked so hard to repeal the death penalty,” said Allen Sanchez, who represents the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops. All members of the human race matter, Sanchez said, whether they are on death row or not yet born.

But opponents say only 1 percent of all abortions happen late, and that most of these pregnancies are wanted. Women who terminate advanced pregnancies often are dealing with unexpected complications that force them to make difficult decisions.

One Albuquerque woman we talked to, who asked only to be identified as Rachael, said she disagrees with the ban because she wants to preserve all of her options in case her tumor isn’t really benign.

“Worst case scenario, I have cancer and doctors would have to tell me I need to consider terminating the pregnancy,” she said.

Rachael said she has reason to be concerned because her last pregnancy ended with emergency surgery that saved her life but not that of her fetus.

New Mexico has relatively liberal abortion laws on the books but House Republicans, in the majority for the first time in 60 years, are feeling empowered to pass measures similar to the more restrictive laws in place in other states.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Yvette Herrell, was expected to pass the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee. It goes on to another friendly House committee before advancing to the House floor, where it is expected to pass. Observers say it is expected to have a hard time getting through Senate committees packed with liberal Democrats.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between New Mexico In Depth, KUNM and NMPBS, People, Power and Democracy, that attempts to pull back the curtain on how the New Mexico Legislature works and, in some cases, doesn’t. It's funded by the Thornburg Foundation and the Loeks Family Fund.